The Millennials. Oh, the Millennials. Everyone has something to say about this rambunctious group of young people taking over the planet…literally (pun intended…literally). Who are we? Why are we making headlines? And why is it so damn hard to understand us? The corporate world doesn’t know what to do with us; Marketing firms have their very own subject devoting to engaging us; Older generations scoff at us just hoping the next generation will save us…and if you’re anything like me, our parents are absolutely terrified of us. I’m not speaking from experience, but as far as I’ve heard, we are something so acutely undefined that society trembles at the mere thought of us. But here’s the kicker…our numbers indicate that WE are society. So, what is it that makes us so different than every other generation?
Problem No. 1: Definitions
Generation Y is loosely defined as anyone born in the time spanning the early 80’s to early 2000s. We’re the first crowd to come of age in the new millennium (ahem, the name). Anyone from 12 to their mid thirties could technically be categorized as a Millennial, and that’s a huge spread. In some cases, parents could be in the same generation as their kids. How exactly are you supposed to define a group of people so large? It’s easy, just use the word diverse, which is admittedly accurate but about as telling as the Natural Flavor label we’re all protesting. Trying to confine us to this ambiguous un-definition is a problem. And you wonder why we’re all so avidly trying to break away from labels! The one that is most commonly ascribed to us is completely irrelevant, so it follows that we rebel against any others you try to pin to us.
Problem No. 2: Society’s Box
We are essential a society of boxes. Humans just love to categorize things, it’s the way our brain works (or so the brainiest in our society tell us). Millennials are sick of the categories, and we aren’t confining ourselves to the solid structures our parents so happily passed on to us. We grew up in hand-me-downs and we don’t want or need any more of them. Our world is quite literally bigger than our parents’ was as we grow more and more connected and find easier ways to experience life in every different corner of the world. Backpacking through Europe for the summer out of college has turned into years spent as nomads chasing our dreams and living on pennies, smiles, and the pure knowledge acquired from living in cahoots with foreign soul siblings. We embrace the ways in which we don’t fit in a box, and celebrate the uniqueness in others. We all go through the same awkward, mortifying (thanks to the explosion of social media, selfies, and the “share” button) stages in life when our confidence is knee high to a grasshopper, but luckily the elders of our beloved Gen Y are there for us with powerful campaigns to reach out to each other in moments of need. The confidence that follows is a force to be reckoned with.
Problem No. 3: Success
It’s suddenly cool to have a passion, not stacks of cash. We absolutely do not define the quality of our life by the depth of our pockets. And who could blame us for questioning this paradigm? We went to college like we were told, traded our souls for a diploma, and got strapped with crippling debt that will last until we’re sixty. Money means almost nothing to a person with $100,000 of debt accruing interest- especially when it was spent on a Brand (college) of education that does almost nothing in the workforce. When we do amass a bit of extra money, we spend it on things that improve the richness of our experience, not flashy toys to look at. If you ask most of us, we’d be perfectly happy living a simple life on the country side surrounded by the ones we love; Love is the thing that drives us- a love for each other, a love for a cause, and most importantly, a love for ourselves. You would never ask the person you love most to work a lousy job that made them absolutely miserable. As we grow into the shoes of self-love, we treat ourselves with this same tenderness. So yes, the head honchos of previous generations may call us soft and unmotivated…but more than likely it’s because we’re gearing up to walk out of that awfully lit cubicle for the last time with a big ol’ Fuck It stamped to our backs. You can’t quit something you never really started. More and more Millennials are rising to executive levels and six-figure positions and trading it all in to follow their dreams. Don’t take it personally, ‘cus we don’t.
Problem No. 4: Entitlement
It’s easy to get caught up in stereotypes of the few of us that emit the pungent air of Entitlement wherever they go, but don’t put that on all of us; there are bound to be a few in every crowd. It’s not so much that these folks are bad, they are an extreme case of what a lot of us believe in: the idea that there is more to life than just getting a job, finding a S.O. to marry (in extravagant fashion), having kids…you know the story. This is not to say that Millennials are anti-marriage or family, we are just waiting longer to dive in. We are living longer than ever and there is less of an emphasis on the race to family life. We are beginning to understand the difference it makes to know who you are before you try to raise another human or promise your life to one. In true Millennial fashion, we question the societal pressure to “settle down” and its apparent measure of well-being. Back to Entitlement- I will be the first to admit that there is certainly a crowd of folks in our generation that wear this word proudly and make the rest of us shake our heads. However, there is also a bit of a blurred line between Entitled and Unsatisfied. We are more willing to up and quit it all not because we feel that our 40 hours aren’t valued, but because we don’t value those 40 hours. If it feels like a waste of time or goes against the standards we’ve set for ourselves, no amount of money will make us feel satisfaction.
Problem No. 5: Gen Why
My very favorite attribute of my fellow Millennials; we are the pinnacle, the epitome, the alpha, and the omega of the WHY. We simply do not allow a statement to linger unquestioned. We are curious creatures with an affinity for investigating. If you tell us it’s healthy, we want to know exactly what it has in it and why it belongs in our body. If you tell us its dangerous, we want to know who decided and how they came to that conclusion. We absolutely do not adhere to the “Because I said so” or even the simple “No.” We care about what is going on in (and to) the world, and we’ve lost a lot of trust in authority figures (sorry y’all, but you haven’t been exactly a beacon of assurance!). The idea that someone has a more important voice than any other someone is suffocating to us, and we won’t stand for it. We have an unprecedented understanding of the different walks of life that bring us all to the same table, and we value each and every individual as much as we value ourselves. We know that experience fosters learning, and given that each person will experience life through different eyes and realities, we are hungry to learn from and with one another in a mutual exchange of information achieved through good conversation, a bit of wine, and a lot of questions.
Millennials are inquisitive folks, and we have infinite access to information at the tips of our fingers. We have the ability, creativity, and information we need to follow our passions and we do so. We enjoy making connections–rather than competitions–with each other. We’re finding our deepest selves and what makes us tick in a way that no generation has taken the time to, and it’s making us more confident and innovative than ever before. Our generation spans almost 30 years of growing, and we’ve got a lot to show for it. But maybe Millennials aren’t so different, maybe society is undergoing a “House on Mango Street”-esque coming of age. We challenge the boundaries that the previous generation has created to keep society in line and in doing so we are inspiring growth, connectivity, and an ambiguity in which this fearless generation takes comfort.
A Note on Hipsters: Okay, yes, I too giggle at people that spend inordinate amounts of money to get clothing that looks just thrifty enough…but I also spend more time than I’m willing to admit putting on makeup that looks like I’m not wearing makeup so am I really one to judge? Nah. The case I want to address here is when people, even Millennials, complain about “the hipsters taking over.” I live in Austin, Texas. I get it. But you’d probably be lying if you said hipsters don’t bring their own gamut of insanely delicious food and drink. It’s creativity that you can physically consume and it’s fantastic. Often pricey, but fantastic. Now, if you’re going to charge me $7 for a PBR I’ll probably just turn around and leave. But then again, I probably wouldn’t order one anyways when you have such a huge selection of locally crafted beers on tap. Stop hating on the hipsters yall!